This month, Jacksonville University is welcoming hundreds of new students and their families to campus during four New Student Orientation sessions, when they learn more about academic programs, get acquainted with the campus, and connect with the broader Phin Family.
But being in a vibrant place like Jacksonville — the fastest growing city in the Southeast — offers plenty of fun activities outside the walls of the University, and families might consider extending their stay to make the most of this summer trip. So, here are 5 things to do in Jacksonville during New Student Orientation.
1. Explore the river.
Jacksonville University has a beautiful 240-acre campus on the banks of the St. Johns River, which offers a world of opportunity for outdoor lovers. The easiest way to spend some time on the water is taking the River Taxi, which makes multiple stops in Jacksonville’s Downtown area and offers unlimited rides six days a week (closed Mondays) for $10 a day. You can also book one of their specialty tours to watch the sunset or learn more about the history and ecosystem of the St. Johns.
For something a little more upscale, Now and Zen Sailing offers 5-star charters on a large catamaran for overnight, weekend or weekday cruises. And for thrill-seekers, Jacksonville Airboat Rides offers exciting tours 7 days a week on 600-horsepower airboats. Riders typically see dolphins, manatees and alligators on these tours, as the captain covers a vast area from river marshes to the Intracoastal Waterway and the mouth of the St. Johns.
2. Experience “Salt Life.”
Every trip to Jacksonville must include a dip in the ocean. But Northeast Florida offers so much more than an ordinary beach outing. If you’re looking for an authentic “local” experience, Huguenot Park is worth exploring. For a small daily fee, visitors can access picnic areas, camp grounds, Intracoastal fishing and a nature center full of information on the local wildlife. But the big draw is where the St. Johns River meets the Atlantic Ocean — the jetties. Drive on the sand (4-wheel drive recommended) until you find the perfect spot for a beach picnic, and watch as dolphins play in the strong currents.
If you’re looking to explore calmer waters, drive a little farther north along Hecksher Drive until you see a colorful roadside shack called Kayak Amelia. Located on Simpson Creek, inside the Timucuan Preserve, they offer kayak and stand-up paddleboard rentals in the tranquil salty marsh waters — the untouched portions of Northeast Florida seen by only the most adventurous explorers. And those with extremely good balance can try the paddleboard yoga.
3. Meet the local (and not so local) wildlife.
For those who prefer to explore nature from dry land, there’s a hidden gem in the heart of Arlington — just minutes from the Jacksonville University campus. With 50 acres of trails, a Florida Natural History Museum, native animal exhibits, and butterfly and hummingbird gardens, Tree Hill Nature Center offers a relaxing escape for nature lovers. Tree Hill is also a cherished community partner of Jacksonville University. JU students often volunteer at the Center, particularly during the Charter Day of Service each spring.
Venture north for a up-close look at some not-so-native wildlife at Catty Shack Ranch Wildlife Sanctuary — a non-profit dedicated to providing safe, loving homes to endangered big cats. It’s also ranked as the No. 1 attraction in Jacksonville by Trip Advisor. The sanctuary currently cares for lions, tigers, pumas, leopards, and lynx, as well as foxes and coatimundis — all of which visitors can view during afternoon tours or night feeding events. Tickets are available online.
For a good mix of all creatures big and small, check out Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens, another outstanding community partner of Jacksonville University. From elephants to tigers, flamingos to stingrays, the Zoo has just about everything, including summertime favorite “Night at the Zoo,” with live music, games and food trucks.
4. Explore local history and culture.
The historic community Jacksonville University calls home is rich with history. If you want to learn more about its colonial roots, explore Fort Caroline National Memorial – dedicated to the short-lived French presence in the sixteenth century at Fort de la Caroline. About 300 French colonists made the journey to establish a permanent settlement in North America. What happened to these early settlers? Explore the Fort to find out!
But if strolling through history in the comfort of air conditioning is more your style, you may prefer the Cummer Museum in Jacksonville’s Riverside neighborhood. The museum holds one of the finest collections of art in the Southeast with more than 5,000 objects in its permanent collection that span from 2100 B.C. through the 21st century.
5. Root for the home team.
No, the Jags haven’t kicked off their next NFL season just yet. But summertime in Jacksonville brings the wildly entertaining Jumbo Shrimp games to Downtown. More than just an oxymoron, the Jumbo Shrimp are the team to beat in minor league baseball, and their mission is to offer affordable family fun at the ballpark, including games, giveaways, fireworks, bounce houses, and of course, heart-pounding action on the diamond. The Jumbo Shrimp host the Biloxi Shuckers in the final two weeks of July, and games start at 7:05 p.m.